I believe that one of the most influential, if not the most influential painter of the Baroque period was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, although his artistic career did not last more than ten years. This was a man with a great gift, but he was consumed by anger and as the saying goes, “Anger is just one letter short of danger.” He died at a relatively young age because of his penchant for facing danger, and confronting others. Still, it is said that what there is of his work is “The beginning of Modern Painting.”
He was born in Milan to a household administrator, and decorator, and at some point in his early life, he was moved to Caravaggio to avoid the atrocities of the plague. In 1584 he became an apprentice to Simone Perzano who had been an apprentice to Titlan. His work is said to have been influenced by Giogione, and even Davinci.
After this period he found himself in Rome and in need of a job. That is when he began to work under Giuseppe Cesari, doing background work, like that of painting flowers and such. During that period there were three paintings of his that stood out and it was these paintings which brought him more work: A Boy with a Basket of Fruit, Young Sick Bachus, and Small Boy Peeling Fruit. These were the paintings which demonstrated his keen ability to portray realism and emotion.
He soon left Cesari but made some very influential friends with the painter Prospero Orsi, the architect Onorio Longhi and the artist Mario Minniti. These three people began to introduce him to influential collectors of the time. The commissions began to come in, and his emotional realism stood out when he portrayed religious themes such at the Penitent Magdalene, a Sacrifice of Isaac, A Saint Francis of Assisi and others.
Had he continued in the art world, his style and realism would have continued to enchant collectors. Unfortunately Caravaggio did not handle fame well, he was known to work for a couple of weeks, and then spend months going from ball to ball instigating fights.
At one point he had to flee Rome with a price on his head. In the end it was this love of danger which killed him. He died in a sword fight. Because his art career was so short lived, he was forgotten in the centuries following his death, only to be remembered again in the 20th century, as the very father of the Baroque movement.